Whither the PKK problem?
Let’s take a closer look at how the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have positioned themselves as constitutional debates, on the one hand, and terrorist activities, on the other, gain pace.
On the road to the June 12 general elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did what any politician would do under the circumstances and focused on short-term objectives that will contribute to maintaining his power rather than dealing with the general character of the PKK problem. During the electoral period, he was particularly harsh against the PKK, hoping to win the hearts and votes of those citizens with an anti-PKK sentiment.
The basic reason behind his harshness was the general reaction stirred by the 2009 Habur incident. Although the militants’ arrival at Habur was part of the “talks with PKK,” it was not managed well and backfired as the public opposition against the government rose. The AKP had to compensate for the negative outcomes of this incident and win back votes lost. Erdoğan acted accordingly and reached his targeted outcome. Nevertheless, PKK continues to annoy the prime minister with the increasing number and intensity of its activities after the election and hopes to get what it wants following the constitutional debates.
We know organizations like the PKK seek longer term results and differ greatly from election-centered legal political parties in terms of their objectives, perspectives and strategies. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that PKK’s approach to elections is different. First of all, the PKK has utilized all the propaganda opportunities offered by the electoral process. As the government limited or completely suspended the usual security measures in order to “avoid casting a shadow on the electoral process.” PKK gained the upper hand by successfully consolidating its “social control over the masses”. Secondly, the election results were very important in terms of testing out the functionality of PKK’s violent “terrorization and attrition” strategy. After all, even a small scale map of vote distributions shows this. Thirdly, the results were necessary for the “propaganda of legitimacy”.
The AKP government made great social, economic, psychological and legal progress in the last five years in the eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey where PKK is most effective. The government’s strategy was to focus on those “soft” areas where it could try to win the hearts and minds of the people. However, what was missing in this strategy was the “security” field which was necessary to act against PKK’s capacity to organize armed assaults. PKK, on the other hand, quickly adapted to the new ecosystem provided by the government’s social, economic and psychological efforts and reproduced itself in a more effective manner. Today it competes with the government in every field, especially in the field of security.
PKK knows that the “control over the people” is a vital issue. The most functional means to achieve this control is surely its capacity to “use violence and terrorize” which also offers great opportunities in terms of local propaganda. On the other hand, the government’s financial anxieties and the absence of a functional and synchronized strategy are putting the police and gendermarie in a very difficult position. The psychological opportunity that could rebalance the situation which is currently favoring PKK is also eroding. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the government is forced to resort to more expensive solutions.